Today I’m writing an overtly political post, and one that I’m sure you’ll find uncomfortable to read — though not nearly as uncomfortable as it must have been for the young woman experiencing it. I hope you’ll be uncomfortable. Better yet, I hope that discomfort will move you, as it did me.
This is a political story, political in the way that I like to use political — it’s a story that shows the moral implications for real people of policy decisions made in a vacuum. It’s also a personal story, and politics at its best is personal. You know that, instinctively.
What is not so instinctive is realizing how much power we as individuals actually have — especially when we join together. And I can think of no more powerful incentive to action than Moral Outrage.
Yes. To me, politics is all about doing the right thing for the right reasons at the right time. And, because we live in this experiment called democracy, what appears right to one person does not necessarily seem so right to the next. And so compromise, negotiation, is born. We converse, we share ideas, we give and take. Ideally.
In August I received this missive from the American Civil Liberties Union, a nonprofit I’ve been supporting monthly for nearly two years. (I wrote about how I made my contribution choices in this post from December, 2016.)
|Hi Janet –|
When Customs and Border Protection agents pulled Zainab Merchant aside for extra screening in her hometown airport, they told her: “When you fly, you sign off all your rights. Do what you want, get a lawyer, get the courts involved… but you’ll never be able to get off.”
A Muslim woman who wears a hijab, Zainab faces invasive, humiliating security screenings every time she flies. TSA and CBP agents conduct warrantless searches of her cell phone and laptop, and have monitored what she says online. They have asked about her religion and whether she knows anyone in ISIS. Agents have insisted on searching her groin area, poked and prodded at her body, and have looked at private photos of her on her phone without the hijab she wears for religious reasons. Zainab doesn’t know why she must undergo these humiliating searches – because the government refuses to tell her.
Add your name to demand that Homeland Security, which oversees TSA and CBP, to stop these excessive and dehumanizing searches – and implement measures to ensure that everyone can travel free from unlawful harassment and abuse.
Zainab is the founder and CEO of a multimedia site about current affairs, politics, and culture. She’s a U.S. citizen, mother to three young children, and a graduate student at Harvard University, which requires her to travel frequently.
But these airport security screenings have forced Zainab to make significant personal and professional sacrifices. She and her husband, who bonded over their love of travel, now avoid flying as a family so their children don’t have to see their parents demeaned by the TSA. And because of the invasive screenings Zainab faces every time she flies, she decided not to enroll in courses at Harvard during the fall of 2017.
We recently filed a complaint with DHS on Zainab’s behalf, but we need the power of the public to make it clear that we won’t tolerate this cruel treatment of passengers.
Add your name now to make clear that we have rights in U.S. airports.
Zainab has repeatedly requested an explanation for why TSA and CBP subject her to additional scrutiny and abuse, but they’ve never given her a clear answer. Individual TSA and CBP officers have dismissed her questions or told her, incorrectly, that she lacks legal rights at checkpoints or in inspection areas.If Zainab’s experience is any indication, ending this abuse is going to require all of us to speak out.
Sign the petition now.
Thanks for taking action,
Director of the ACLU National Security Project
Often letters like this one get deleted; there are simply too many and my brain distrusts everything when it’s on overload. But this letter reached me.
My initial outrage was subtle; I signed the petition and planned this blog post about it. But my outrage exploded when, checking for updates prior to scheduling the post, I Googled “Zainab Merchant.” That brought me to the original suit filed by the ACLU, which gave a fuller story. It gave details of each humiliating security screening. I’d link to it here, but for some reason I’m prevented. I imagine you can find it too if you look.
I am outraged that people who work for my US government, who represent my government, who answer to my government and are paid by my government could be so callous, so dehumanizing, so mean. I hope you are too. I hope you’ve signed their petition, and if not yet, here’s another chance.
The ACLU asked me to share this on my various social media sites. I thought I would do better. I don’t have thousands following me, as a few of you do, but I do have hundreds. And if each of us could share as we are able, the story will get the visibility it deserves. The visibility it needs.
Please. I believe in the inherent goodness of the average person. I hold fast to the hope that as more people realize these types of things are going on, more outrage will be shown and this outrage, focused and controlled, will lead to change. Remember, the midterms are coming up. I trust you plan to vote.
Now it’s time for me to go sit quietly for awhile and collect myself.
How about you? What turns on your moral outraged?